Just weeks after the midterm elections, four students joined some of the nation’s top political consultants at a conference that offered insight into the country’s current political situation. Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Political Science DeWayne Lucas and Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman, Kelsey Bair ’11, Daniel Boysen ’11, Andrew Cobb ’11 and Dillon Nachbar ’11 traveled to the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron for the Academic Outreach Conference, “Making Democracy Happen.”
The Bliss Institute is dedicated to understanding, researching and teaching the nation’s political process, particularly the role of political parties, elections, and grassroots efforts in shaping national debates. The event was coordinated with the American Association of Political Consultants, a nonpartisan organization of political professionals.
“This conference gives students an opportunity to gain knowledge of political consulting, and it’s also great for networking,” says Deutchman, who has attended the conference with students several times in the past. “But what is really beneficial about this conference is that it allows students to see what’s out there, what they can do in the world of politics.”
Comprised of six panels and a mentoring luncheon during which students received one-on-one time with a consultant, the conference covered a broad range of topics and issues affecting today’s political world. Speakers provided insider perspectives on the 2010 elections and the role that political consultants played in the successes and failures of the candidates. Others spoke of the challenges and advantages presented by new media outlets, and the impact of 2010 on 2012 – the next major election year.
“It was a wonderful learning experience,” says Deutchman. “With people like Whit Ayres in attendance, it was a pleasure to hear a political consultant’s perspective on the current political climate. The challenges faced by consultants today were really exposed.” Ayres is the Founder and President of Ayres, McHenry & Associates, President of the American Association of Political Consultants, and co-founder of Resurgent Republic.
Not only did the conference provide an outlook on the country’s present situation, but it provided an outline of the work done daily by campaigners. “The conference highlighted the involvement of political consultants and campaign managers in the electoral process,” explains Lucas. “It was a great opportunity to expose students to the actual work of consultants, what they do day to day.”
Cobb, who interned with Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) in D.C. this summer, found the information on grassroots political movements particularly interesting. “These organizers are trying to connect with people on an individual level; it is working along with people,” says Cobb. “It’s about creating networks and making relationships.”
For Bair, the mentoring luncheon, during which students were able to meet political consultants in a more intimate setting, was the most beneficial aspect of the conference. “Sitting down and hearing the insider’s perspective was incredibly helpful,” explains Bair, who spoke with Dale Emmons, a member of the American Association of Political Consultants Board of Directors for 10 years, and the winner of numerous national Pollie Award competitions. “It was good to hear that taking a chance on something that you want to do, on a career in politics, pays off in the end.”
This past summer, Bair worked in the Healthcare Sector at the Podesta Group in Washington, D.C. “These are the people who move the campaigns,” says Bair. “They can be responsible for a candidate getting elected – or not.”
Having been deeply involved in a political campaign, Nachbar approached the conference from a different perspective. “My father recently ran in local elections, and I acted as treasurer,” explains Nachbar. His father, David Nachbar, recently ran a close election for congressman of New York’s 29th district. “I had the opportunity to speak with his political consultants during that time, but it was good to see the organization in their work, what they do on a daily basis.”
Nachbar also found that the conference did a significant job building on a strong foundation of knowledge he had gained in his coursework. “One thing I took away from this conference is an appreciation for the Political Science department at HWS,” comments Nachbar. “Going in, I felt well informed, and the topics that were discussed in detail had been covered in my political science classes.”
Boysen, a political science major currently working on an independent study on political messaging with Lucas, approached the conference not only as a segue into the world of political consulting, but also as a way to explore the Bliss Institute as a possible option for graduate school. “Going into the conference, I didn’t know the intricacies of political consulting,” explains Boysen. “However, I saw a wide range of what the work of a political consultant entails. It’s not strictly networking or fundraising; a consultant is not just a person brought in to run a campaign.”
However, it was a panel titled, “Old Media/ New Media: Communicating with Voters,” that left an impression on Boysen. “There was a big emphasis on social networking,” says Boysen, who has particular interest in new media in the field of political consulting.
Meeting Ohio Town Council member Jill Zimon was another highlight. “She had just spoken on the media panel, and she ran her own campaign using new media means – and won,” says Boysen. “She gave great advice on getting into the field and how to really break down that door.”
“I learned that this is a field that – if you put time and hard work into – results in a very fulfilling career,” says Boysen.
A member of the faculty since 2000, Lucas holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and his M.A. and Ph.D. from State University at Binghamton.
Deutchman, a member of the HWS faculty since 1987, holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania, and a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University in political science and economics.